SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: ROSALIE KNECHT by Jenna Leigh Evans

Rosalie Knecht

Rosalie Knecht

Rosalie Knecht is the author of the novel Relief Map, and of the translation of César Aira's Acclaimed The Seamstress and the Wind.  She was a 2012 Center for Fiction Emerging Writer Fellow and a participant in the 2012 PEN World Voices Festival, and has been published in Stonecutter and The New York Times

Rosalie Knecht! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I don't mind doing it for short pieces, but that's because I have another job. 

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

No. My craft is paying for my trip to AWP this year, though, for which I am grateful, and it paid my rent for two months in my last semester of social-work school.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

I have a full-time job and I write on the weekends. It's not as much time as I would like, but it's enough. At least, it's enough for now. There was a year in my early twenties when I could only find temp jobs, so I would work for a few weeks and then have nothing for a month, and the lethargy and anxiety of that was absolutely worse for my creative output than my job is now. But of course I would like to have more time. A few months ago, one of the teenagers on my caseload came into my office and said, "How many days do you work?" I said, "Five." He said, "I think I would only like to work four." From your lips to God's ears, friend.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

There's a long period when each and every time I re-read the piece I'm writing, I see so many things to change. The pace of spotting things that need to change slows down after a while, but it never completely stops.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

Oh my God, I wish I did. I stop when I'm miserable, and keep going when someone tells me I should. That is a terrible system. I need to better cultivate my inner voice on this topic. It's hard to do that, though, especially when you're first starting out. Many tantalizing visions in the garb of agents and editors will stand before you and say, "Have you thought about making this a multiple-perspective novel?" And you have to have the sense to say no. But it's SO hard! They're gatekeepers, and they're making like they might open the gate! You have to trust yourself. If making it a multiple-perspective novel feels like a bad idea to you, then that person isn't gonna open the gate even if you do it. Or they are going to open it, but you're going to wish they hadn't. Nobody cares about your book as much as you do. How could they? And that means you are the person who decides what it should be.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

It was a calling. And I could try to make a joke out of that, or hedge, or talk about how it sounds pretentious, but that is the answer. I was very secretive about writing for a long time, through childhood and into young adulthood, because it feels too big to talk about, too magic. I'm trying to get more comfortable with talking about it. If it was a choice, I would have made easier choices! For a long time, writing fucked up my ability to think seriously about how to make a living, and how to make a life in a world where I was always going to have to spend a lot of time working at things that were not writing novels. I couldn't bring myself to care that much about things that weren't writing novels, or even hope that I could find non-novel-writing work that could be fulfilling to me, so for years I worked at jobs that didn't fit me, and just thought that was life. But you CAN have it all, kids! You can have a job that you care about and also maintain an active artistic practice. It's hard but that's okay. Everybody works hard. Mary Renault was a combat nurse. She wrote those sexy books on home leave. Dare to dream. 

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I can't remember the title of it. All I can tell you is that I just googled "YA novel Ozarks sexual abuse." 

 

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: DAVID WINNER by Jenna Leigh Evans

David Winner

David Winner

David Winner’s first novel, The Cannibal of Guadalajara, won the 2009 Gival Press Novel Award and was nominated for the National Book Award. His work has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and garnered a Ledge Magazine fiction contest award. He has been published in The Village VoiceThe Kenyon Review (upcoming)The Iowa Review (upcoming), Fiction, Confrontation, JoylandBookforum, and Dream Catcher, among others. Winner is the fiction editor of The American.  His new novel, Tyler’s Last, is an homage to Particia Highsmith, the last years of her life, her work's obsessions, and the mythology that has tied them together. 

David Winner! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

Many years ago, I was the co-editor of fiction at the Sonora Review.  We felt that we were giving the writers we published an enormous boost, even though we only paid them in copies and printed just a few hundred altogether.  Soon afterwards, I started submitting to magazines myself, and receiving the smallest publication would be like downing pure serotonin.  I’d be glowing for days on the rare occasions that I got paid fifty dollars or so.  Years later, I was explaining to my writing students about literary magazines as a good way to start publishing and how many submissions they’d get (I once got a rejection from the Indiana Review on which “submission 9834” had been scrawled).  They were totally flummoxed by the idea of so much competition for so little financial gain.  And it is a weird thing if you distance yourself from it.  But I can’t.  The idea of making much money from my work in general feels pretty impossible.  I have no idea how much I’ll end up making from Tyler’s Last, but when I consider the years of work I put in, averaging two or three dollars an hour would be a best-case scenario.  Like waiting tables without getting tips.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

Maybe if I lived in the 1930’s, or some part of the world with an exchange rate wildly favoring the dollar.  I’ve never conceived of it as a livelihood.  When I was younger, I considered myself an “experimental” writer.  It was a convenient way to shield myself from rejection — the old “they just don’t get it” trick — and lowered any expectations of serious cash.  Self-fulfilling or otherwise, that prophecy has proven true.  In order to make a living, I trod down a well-traveled road: MFA to community college. When I passed thirty and saw only adjuncting on the horizon, I acquired a sort of accidental PHD at NYU in what was basically Rhet Comp.  I will take this opportunity to confess one of my most excruciating secrets: the topic of my dissertation was actually my own writing.  I was contemplating an unwieldy study of community college creative-writing students when an older professor suggested that I study my own writing instead.  Narcissistic qualitative studies were in vogue in progressive education, and, suddenly, I saw a way of actually getting the thing done.  When people have found about my secret PHD and asked the topic, I’ve always mumbled something vague.  I will say in my defense that it had nothing to do with any notion of my writing being particularly good. Rather, it was an attempt to puzzle out something about process, what comes from invention and what comes from experience. (And, yes, it worked, I got a tenure track job. )

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

Typical of community colleges, the load is heavy, but it is still a pretty good gig for a writer.  I have about five months off a year.   When I got tenure, I did not quite do what those evil anti-teacher Republicans suspect — cease to care about teaching — but I did get rid of most everything else.  Some meetings, sure, but no committees or administrative work.   All in all, it’s been a good scam.  Write dissertation about yourself, get tenure, and go from there.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

Unfortunately, I often don’t, or at least didn’t in the past.  I would get captivated by my own words and characters and only very gradually begin to see the flaws lurking in the shadows.  Only after forcing myself to keep away from something for months could I return and find problems.  I had worked for years on Tyler’s Last and was upset at first when Jon, the editor at Outpost19, suggested some pretty major edits, but later I decided he was more often right than not.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

I stop revising when I return to a piece after a gap of time and don’t particularly feel the need to toy with it any more.  I have kind of an OCD approach to revision, which involves printing many copies, and strains the cheap printers I tend to buy.  After a long series of infuriating printer collapses, I took the latest one down to the basement of my apartment building when no one was else was around and kicked the crap out of it.  Just throwing it out was nowhere near enough.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I don’t know that writing is either a choice or a calling...more of a habit, an addiction.  And publishing, trying to get more and more recognized, is another one.  I wonder if I’ll ever be satisfied.  A friend who has reached what I think of as an absolute pinnacle is not.   As a kid in college, we were made to read some terrible thing by Joan Didion (who is really great, I know) about writers being somehow more intuitive by nature than non-writers, which I can say from personal experience is not necessarily true.  On the other hand, there are those who genuinely want to use their writing to heal and to enlighten, while I just want to entertain, surprise, and occasionally offend.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I read plenty of stuff too young to understand, but was never particularly haunted.  I did, however, read something that I considered myself too old for, acted snotty, and then received my just desserts.  The Pearl, ninth grade.  It seemed like such treacle that I just couldn’t shut my snotty-nosed English-professor-brat little trap about it, and the teacher, a magnificently big-framed former tennis pro whose iced teas reputedly contained bourbon, lead the class in a game of “throw the book at the annoying student.”   Flimsy paperbacks.  I don’t think they hurt.  

 

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: DARCEY STEINKE by Jenna Leigh Evans

Darcey Steinke

Darcey Steinke

Darcey Steinke is the author of the novel Sister Golden Hair, which was on best-of lists at Vogue, Flavorwire, the Millions, the Southern Independent Booksellers Association, and Electric Literature; she also wrote Easter Everywhere and Up Through the Water — both New York Times Notable Books – and Milk, Jesus Saves, and Suicide Blonde. With Rick Moody, she co-edited Joyful Noise: The New Testament Revisited. Her WORK has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, GRANTA, The Boston Review, Vogue, Spin Magazine, THE RUMPUS, SALON.COM, THE Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, and The Guardian. Her web-story “Blindspot” was a part of the 2000 Whitney Biennial. She has been a Henry Hoyns Fellow, a Stegner Fellow, and a Writer-in-Residence at the University of Mississippi.

Darcey Steinke! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it? 

All writers work for free sometimes. If the project is interesting and not too time-consuming I will work for free. Also, many of the great innovative works made no money and were on very small presses, like Ulysses

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood? 

No. I teach as well and do magazine work. 

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write? 

I write no matter what I do. There is no excuse for not writing. No matter how much work you have. You can always make twenty minutes, or 30, or 60 a day to write. Even ten!

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision? 

I rewrite all my work many, many times. Like 40 maybe or even 50. 

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop? 

I show it to a few people and rework again and show it to a few people and rework again. 

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

 I feel both. 

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after? 

Looking for Mr. Goodbar

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: NICOLE DENNIS-BENN by Jenna Leigh Evans

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Nicole Dennis-Benn

Nicole Dennis-Benn’s DEBUT NOVEL, HERE COMES THE SUN, was published in  2016 to nationwide critical acclaim. Her work has been published in Kweli Journal, the Red Rock Review, the Jamaica Gleaner, and Elle. Her short stories "God Nuh Like Ugly" and "What’s for Sale" were nominated for 2016 Pushcart Prizes; she has received recognition and fellowships from The MacDowell Colony, Hedgebrook, the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund for Women Writers, the Lambda Foundation, the Hurston/Wright Foundation, and Kimbilio. She is a Sewanee Writers' Conference Tennessee Williams Scholar. Visit her website at www.nicoledennisbenn.com  or on Twitter: @brooklyn_soul10. Dennis-Benn's book launch for here comes the sun will be at brooklyn's greenlight books on july 19.

Nicole Dennis-Benn! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

When I first learned that I could get paid for doing what I love, I was ecstatic. The first literary journal that offered me payment was Kweli Literary Journal. I never expected that it would be the case! While I write, I never think about the money or the accolades. If I do that, I might not write as freely or write what's important to me. 

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

Yes. I sold my first novel this spring, which is a huge deal. But I also teach writing. I'm a college writing professor, and I run my own writing workshop—Stuyvesant Writing Workshop in Brooklyn. This gives me the freedom to write.  While the money from my book deal is helpful in so many ways, I think having a steady flow of income from teaching, and from grants and fellowships, is great. Especially when we add family, investments, and a 401K to the mix. Another essential thing is having a supportive spouse. My wife, who is a Biostatistician, has been very supportive throughout the entire process, which helps a lot.  So when I transitioned from public health researcher to full-time writer, she made all that possible. It wasn’t easy, but we did it. 

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have enough time to write?

In all honesty, I am one of those writers who can write anywhere and anytime.  I’m always writing.  On the subway I am constantly daydreaming, which in my eyes qualifies as writing too. I like to scribble ideas wherever I go, or snap pictures on my iPhone of people who I think fit the description of characters I’d like to explore, or places where I could see my characters immersed.  By the time I lock myself away in my home-study I end up with the first draft of a story or the beginning of a novel.  In fact, most of my second novel was written on the Staten Island Ferry.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I tend to take my drafts everywhere I go and read them in different settings—on the train, bus, waiting in line somewhere, etc. Sometimes I see different things when I walk away and come back. I’ve learned that it’s best to put a story down for a week or more and come back with a fresh, objective lens. I also have a great agent and editor.  But even before sending out projects, I read out loud to my wife and to a close friend—both wonderful, analytical readers who could care less about my ego.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

That’s a tricky question.  You never know. What I’ve learned is that I might think it’s done, but then I go away and come back and realize there is something more to the story.  Usually another reader sees this more clearly, given that we tend not to see flaws or missing elements when we’re too close to our story or have been with it for a long time. This past summer, I was fortunate enough to work with author Richard Bausch at Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and have heard him say over and over again that doubt is natural.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

It was a calling. I always knew I wanted to tell stories.  My challenge prior to arriving at this reality was defying my previous mentality that having a more conventional career was the be-all and end-all to success and happiness.  I was pre-med in college, then went on to do a Master’s in Public Health.  But I wasn’t happy with doing that.  I was always writing, always seeking ways to tell stories.  Finally, I took a leap of faith and went for it. I’ve never been happier.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after? 

I read Beloved by Toni Morrison really young. I found it in a library. All I took from it then was a scary story of a baby ghost haunting a mother after she killed it. I didn’t get the concept until college when I read it again—same book with the “used” tag still on it!—and it resonated with me in more ways than one—tackling race and identity and the price of freedom.  Morrison opened up my eyes to the craft of storytelling, delving into complexities of characters and situations, telling a truly haunting and tragic tale of redemption.    

           

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: JESSICA PIAZZA by Jenna Leigh Evans

Jessica Piazza

Jessica Piazza is the author of two full-length poetry collections: Interrobang — winner of the AROHO 2011 To the Lighthouse Poetry Prize and the 2013 Balcones Poetry Prize — and Obliterations (with Heather Aimee O'Neill, forthcoming), as well as the chapbook This is not a sky. She is the poetry editor of Southern Pacific Review and in 2015 she started the Poetry Has Value project, hoping to spark the conversation about poetry and worth. Learn more at www.jessicapiazza.com or www.poetryhasvalue.com.

Jessica Piazza! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

My undergraduate degree was in journalism, and when I was in college I saw writing for free as paying my dues. Once I left college, though, I felt like my internship days were behind me. Of course, once the Internet bubble burst and every writer I knew was in hot water, that changed really quickly. I knew I wouldn’t get paid for journalism anymore, so I decided instead to pursue my true love: poetry. I figured if I was going to be poor, I might as well be poor doing something I loved. Anyway, throughout my masters program and PhD, I basically ONLY published poetry for free.  When I did get a stray check from a journal, it always came as a surprise. I was sure that there was no money in poetry, and that expecting it was selling out in the very worst way. But, you know, a decade plus is a really long time. And doing something you put your life into every damn day for no compensation except the promise of readers, and even that promise fulfilled only barely—well, it grinds you down.  And that got me thinking.  So this year, I started to pay attention to the idea of getting paid for poetry. So much attention, in fact, that I started the Poetry Has Value project. It started with a pledge to ONLY submit poetry to paying markets for one whole year, and blog about it. But it became so much more. Really, it’s a crusade to keep the conversation about poetry, money and worth going. Even if we can’t change the industry entirely, we can talk about why it’s okay for musicians and painters and novelists to want to sell their work, but not us poets.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

That’s a loaded question. If you consider poetry my craft, then, well, no. But if writing is my craft, then the answer is: sort of. I teach Writing and Rhetoric at USC, which I think is a really important job. I couldn’t do that without a well-honed writing craft (and a well-honed teaching craft, too!). I also facilitate book clubs for groups all over LA, and I suppose it’s my craft of swift and analytical reading that allows me to do this. I know I might be stretching the definition here. The point I’m making, I guess, is that writers have a matrix of skills and talents, and any one or few of them has potential to make us a living if we work it well.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?

Sometimes. I’m so very busy. I mentioned two of my jobs, but there are many other small ones – I generally have five jobs at a given time. At my best, I like to hope that everything I’m doing – teaching and writing and lesson-planning and reading and conversing about books and meeting people – is part of the process of writing.  At my worst, I feel stressed and rushed and unproductive.  That’s human, I guess.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs revision?

There’s an itch. Something feels uncomfortable. I don’t get that ah feeling when I finish reading it, that sense of closure and satisfaction.  OR, I come back to something much later and I hate it. Some people might say that something still needs revision if it’s been around the block a bunch and hasn’t been published. I’m not one of those people, really. It might still need revision, but only you can know that. Don’t change something that gives you that confident, happy feeling. If it’s wrong, you’ll feel it eventually.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

See above. You both know (ah) and you don’t know (you might come back and see that everything is wrong).

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

Very much: both. I felt compelled to write, always. But I was never a person who believed that was all I could do.  I was interested in law, in business, in urban environmentalism.  But writing was the thing that I loved the most, so I kept doing it.  Also, it didn’t hurt that I fell in love with my Creative Writing professor in college. Nothing makes you want to write impressively like a big, crazy crush! I am joking, sort of. I mean, I would have kept writing poetry anyway. I just didn’t realize it could be an actual career until I met him. And I wanted that. And perhaps that’s a big part of what I fell in love with.  So.  Yeah. A calling and a choice.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

Oh my god, Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.  I knew religion didn’t sit well with me, and I had no way to articulate that. I read Cat’s Cradle when I was twelve years old and that was that. I understood religion and why I wasn’t into it and why other people were and why sometimes that’s beautiful and sometimes it isn’t.  It’s still my go-to text on the philosophy of theology.

 

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: J.P. HOWARD by Jenna Leigh Evans

J.P. Howard PHOTO CREDIT: RACHEL ELIZA GRIFFITHS 

J.P. Howard PHOTO CREDIT: RACHEL ELIZA GRIFFITHS 

J.P. Howard aka Juliet P. Howard is the author of the poetry collection SAY/MIRROR and the chaplet bury your love poems here. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Feminist Wire, pluck! The Journal of Affrilachian Arts & Culture, Split this Rock, Nepantla: A Journal for Queer Poets of Color, Muzzle Magazine, Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women, The Best American Poetry Blog, MiPOesias, Talking Writing and Connotation Press. She curates the AWARD-winning Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS). Howard is a Cave Canem graduate fellow and a Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow. FIND HER at https://www.facebook.com/JPHowardAuthor and the Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon at @WomenWriteBloom. In September, she will be featured at the Third Annual Hobart Festival of Women Writers and the BEATS Festival in New York; in October, appearances include the Women Writers of the Diaspora Series in New York and, in Detroit, Fire & Ink IV: Witness

JP Howard! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

My poetry is often published without compensation. Unfortunately, this is often part and parcel of being a poet. While I believe writers of all genres deserve compensation, and certainly wish more poets, including myself, were consistently compensated for our published work, for me it is still important to share my poetic voice with the world. I often write poems that are political, from the perspective of a queer woman of color, who is also the mother of two black sons in America; so my daily life is a political statement. I believe it is important for my voice and for poets like me to be heard, and I will continue writing and publishing my work, when given the opportunity.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

No. Aside from being a poet and curator of a literary salon series, I am also a full-time practicing public interest lawyer.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

Finding enough time to dedicate to my craft is definitely one of my biggest challenges! I do work full-time and it’s a very busy day job. I’m always trying to find a balance between writing and the rest of my life. When I speak on panels focused on women writers, this is a recurring topic: how we as women often have to carve out time to dedicate to our writing, while also trying to balance full or part-time jobs, family and other commitments. It is definitely a topic that is near and dear to me — how women writers, who are often nurturers of others, need to also make time to nurture ourselves and put our writing and our needs up front. As for me, it’s something I’m constantly working to improve, making and finding that necessary time.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

A poem needs editing when it still feels incomplete after I re-read it aloud to myself. Additionally, getting feedback from fellow poets also helps to get a sense of how the poem is received in its current setting. Questions I ask myself when deciding whether to keep revising are:  “What purpose does this line/image/word serve in the poem?” or “Can this poem survive without these images/words/lines?” If I feel the poem has images or language that feels incomplete, then I’ll continue to revise.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

Some days I have to just make myself stop revising! Often the hardest part of editing for me is knowing when to finally stop and say “J, this poem is complete. You can let her go into the world now, and just be.”  When I’ve revised a poem to the point where it feels complete and no new edits are needed to improve that piece, then I can finally move on. Usually!

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I definitely believe being a writer was a calling for me. I’ve been writing, in some form or another, since I was a child. As an only child of a single working mother, I spent a hell of a lot of time in my local Harlem library when I was growing up. I discovered some phenomenal black poets in the Hamilton Grange library while in elementary school and fell in love with the words, images and whispered sounds of Lucille Clifton, Margaret Walker, June Jordan, Langston Hughes and Nikki Giovanni, just to name a few. Soon after, I began putting my own words on the page and calling it poetry and never stopped. Writing for me is often cathartic, a way to process the complicated world around me. I’m definitely a believer that my poems often choose me. I particularly feel that way about poems that are difficult to write due to topic/theme and yet, I’ll find myself working on pieces that emotionally drain me because the poem chose me. Writing is part and parcel of who I am: poet, mom, lesbian, partner, curator….

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I read one of my favorite novels of all time, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison, when I was about 11 years old.  I wouldn’t say it haunted me as much as had an impact on the way I viewed the power of the written word. I could literally see and hear the characters that Morrison brought to life. No one could convince me, back then, that I didn’t personally know the main character, Pecola Breedlove, even though at that young age, I’m sure I didn’t have a grasp on the difficult themes running through the book. I do recall that I didn’t want the book to end. It’s definitely a book that I returned to once I was an adult, and each time I read it, something new continues to grab my attention. So when I say “haunted” I mean it in the best possible, lingering type of way. 

 

 

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: WENDY C. ORTIZ by Jenna Leigh Evans

Wendy C. Ortiz. PHOTO CREDIT: Meiko Takechi Arquillos

Wendy C. Ortiz. PHOTO CREDIT: Meiko Takechi Arquillos

Wendy C. Ortiz is the author of Excavation: A MemoirHollywood Notebook, and the forthcoming Bruja. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, HAZLITT MAGAZINE, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and The Nervous Breakdown, among other places. Wendy co-founded the Rhapsodomancy Reading Series, which she has curated and hosted since 2004.

Wendy C. Ortiz! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

If I'm excited by a concept, I'll publish my work without compensation. This sometimes means that I participate when a writer I admire solicits work for a new journal they're involved in, or I'm approached by an unusual literary project or journal with an idea or constraint to work with. Those are the only situations, for now, that I'll consider publishing without compensation.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

Absolutely not. 

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

I may never feel I have as much time as I need to write. I've learned to live with this feeling and fiercely protect the time I do have.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I could probably take every piece of writing, published or not, and decide it still could use another revision. 

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

When I've hit a deadline or gone beyond a deadline; when there's no deadline but I feel I've hit the limit in my body.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I've felt compelled to write since I could hold a pencil, so this might fall under the heading "calling" — but I have to say, we all make a choice of whether or not we will "be a writer" and I have always chosen YES. 

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

There was a book in the children's section of the public library I used to return to over and over. It had a "recipe" for becoming a werewolf. I'm mostly haunted by wanting to find it again to see if it was indeed meant for children.

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: ADELLE WALDMAN by Jenna Leigh Evans

Adelle Waldman

Adelle Waldman

Adelle Waldman’s first novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., was named one of 2013’s best books by The New Yorker, The New Republic, Slate, The Economist, NPR, BookPage, and The Guardian. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Slate, and The Wall Street Journal, among others.

Adelle Waldman! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

When The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. was first published, I did anything and everything I could to promote the book. That meant lots of writing for little or no pay—I was exhausted all the time, trying to do as much as I could. I wrote a thing for Publisher’s Weekly, I remember, and one for Oprah.com. I’d be doing interviews during the day and readings at night and get home and have to stay up until three in the morning working on these unpaid or meagerly-paid assignments. I don’t feel good about doing it. I mean, I get why I sought out those assignments—it’s about exposure and book promotion—and why any first-time novelist is advised to do the same, but I think it’s a collective-action problem. The more people agree to do these things for free, for promotional purposes, the harder it is for any one author to resist the pressure and insist on being paid.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

For now, yes.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

When I was writing Nathaniel P., I worked many jobs—the one that paid the most was as an SAT tutor. I also taught nonfiction writing classes and wrote book reviews and other pieces of journalism. It was a challenge to make time to write. Eventually I cut out everything but the SAT tutoring, which was the most lucrative. I liked writing book reviews, but I felt like I was making no progress on my novel, so I eliminated all but the novel and the work I needed to do to pay rent.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

It almost always needs another revision. I revise until I want to shoot myself, and then some. I force myself to read the thing again and again. Often I undo some of the changes I’ve made. For me revision is usually a process of taking one step back for every two steps forward. It’s very time-consuming and draining, but I see no alternative. Also, I can only read with an eye for so many things at a given time. That is, sometimes I’m feeling good about structural changes I’ve made and I read the manuscript again, expecting to pat myself on the back for how well it flows—and instead I find that now some other flaw is leaping out at me. I suddenly see that the thing is crying out for more physical description or visual detail, or else that one character’s dialogue is flat, etc., etc. When I’m getting close or tired, I may do things like change the font or spacing so I can see it through fresher eyes. It’s amazing how effective this method is—I highly recommend it for any writers who haven’t tried it yet.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

I don’t know, but there is a point. I guess it’s when I read it again and again and consistently only find small line-editing changes. It’s kind of like popcorn popping. For a while, when you are in the throes of revising, there is pop after pop, but after a certain point, it slows down. But it might be temporary. I mean, I might have revised the thing all I can at that point in time, but in a few months, once I’ve, say, moved on to the next section and come back and re-read earlier stuff, the revision process starts all over again, from the beginning. As I said, it’s very time-consuming.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I’m not sure I’d characterize it as either. I never published any fiction until The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. came out when I was 36. I didn’t get an MFA. I had no one telling me that I was talented, that I should write fiction. I wrestled with it all the time—wondering if I was fucking up my life by working a dumb job as an SAT tutor so I could write fiction that I had no idea if anyone would ever publish. What I’d say I had is a conviction that I had something to say, some insight into people and relationships and psychology and gender, that I didn’t see out there. It was more than a desire to write, but a deep-seated—although anxiety-provoking (because I often wondered if I was crazy/self-deluded for holding it, on so little evidence)—belief that I had something to say that ought to be heard. Is that a calling? I don’t know, the word ‘calling’ sounds a little mystical to me. But it was different from a mere desire to write because I loved novels or a feeling that I was “creative.”

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I’m not sure I relate to this. The books I read when I was too young left little impression. I am a huge devotee of 19th century British fiction—Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, in particular. I read Jane Eyre when I was a sophomore in college and thought it was fine, nothing special—a good story, but old-fashioned. I was surely too young and immature to appreciate what was right in front of me. Several years later I would be able to see what a brilliant, searing book it is, but at 19, I read it in too condescending a manner; I was too knowing and obtuse. All I absorbed was the surface story. I missed the moral and psychological depth.

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: DAME DARCY by Jenna Leigh Evans

Dame Darcy

Dame Darcy

Dame Darcy is the author of the bestselling comic Meat Cake and the graphic novels The Illustrated Jane Eyre, Frightful Fairytales, Dame Darcy’s Meat Cake Compilation, Dollerium, Gasoline, Comic Book Tattoo, and Handbook for Hot Witches, among others. Her work is featured in numerous anthologies and collaborations, including The Big Book of Grimm Fairytales, Rollerderby, Dancing Queen, The Graphic Canon: The Definitive Anthology of the World’s Greatest Literature Through Comics Volumes I and II, Fantastic Four Fairy Tales, The Penalty of Hope, Cobweb, The Blythe Doll Book, In the Garden of Poisonous Flowers, Women’s Herstory in Comics, and Twisted Sisters. Her upcoming publications include  Meat Cake Bible (Fantagraphics, 2016) and Lady Killers (Harper Collins, 2016); she is also currently at work on Voyage of Temptress, an animated and live-action series based on Meat Cake. Her books, fine art, press kit, events, music, commissions, video, short film and animation, and all other multimedia (including her Mermaid Tarot cards) can be found at DAMEDARCY.COM.

Dame Darcy! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I hate it, and I think it's unfair, and I think it's completely unrealistic. How are we supposed to live??? This summer to serve the Goddess I volunteered at a women's crisis center summer camp, teaching kids comix and crafting...that wasn't for money but for something bigger. Otherwise, I'll do what I have to do to survive, working to pay today's bills while working double-time pitching intellectual properties to get beyond survival.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

I work a full-time job as a ghost host at Escape Savannah to make money to live on. After I’ve sufficiently introduced and terrorized the survivors in the game, I lock them in the room and draw my comics while I wait for them to escape! My art studio is connected to the haunted house, and I work with my intern in the back. When I lived in Los Angeles, I worked as an extra on TV shows like ER and Law and Order. I would hide behind the Coke machine, wearing scrubs, trying not to get picked to be onscreen while drawing my comix. These kinda jobs don't pay well, but they enable me to work on my deadlines and not use up the book advance. I have three books being released next year, so my new challenge is to be able to pay for a tour to promote them. I was at a loss as to how this was to be done, so I prayed to the Goddess, visualizing a treasure chest full of gold.  That's when I discovered Kurt Cobain's hair in my jewelry box...I got it in the 90’s from Courtney Love when she commissioned me to do a doll for Francis. I'd kept the extra hair left over from the doll and forgotten about it all these years.  I'm now in the process of auctioning it – I’m going to give a percentage to a suicide prevention center, and use some of it to help me pay for my book tour.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

Anything can be done with proper time management, and we only have this one life. So git ‘er done!!! 

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

Usually when the book is finally published and I have it in my hands. Only then, after it’s too late, do I notice that some of the threads on the spider web are missing, or the final revision of a tarot card is wrong.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

A true work of art is never really finished, merely abandoned. You can't be OCD forever. Just make it as good as you can, and get it done and published. If you think that it could've been done better, make a new intellectual property and just do that one better. Put whatever ideas are left over in your new work, or this dang stuff will never get finished. 

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I was a complete and utter failure at absolutely everything except for that at which I truly excel, so I had no choice. I am severely dyslexic, and I got straight D's in all my classes. But because of my bangin’ art portfolio, I won a scholarship to a fancy fine-arts school full of the children of millionaires. And, like Cinderella, I left the drudgery and the tedium and the psychotic, prison-like life I had in Idaho — which many of my friends did not survive — to go to the San Francisco Art Institute on a magic cloud and begin my career at age 17.  Many of my friends went into the military, worked on fishing boats in Alaska, were child brides, or killed themselves in order to escape. I was very lucky. My oldest and best childhood friend was gay-bashed – he fended them off with a chain saw — and he took his attackers to court on attempted murder. When he won the case, he used his money to go to fashion school. He’s now a famous designer, and uses chainsaw imagery in his designs. 

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I loved reading books about utopia and the apocalypse. Richard Brautigan’s In Watermelon Sugar really affected me. Also The Stand by Stephen King...and the book Utopia which is based on Cretian/Minoan texts…books about Atlantis, where I originate ...and of course, obviously I was influenced by the Oz series, Alice in Wonderland, and Pippi Longstockings’ pirate adventures. Also, all the sailing classics: Treasure Island, Slocum’s Sailing Alone Around the World, Moby-Dick, Robinson Crusoe, Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Fairytales about mermaids, and my most favorite story of all time, the Count of Monte Cristo, which I vow I will live myself one day in true pirate revenge and capture all the gold and give the power of it to the goddess through ocean conservation. 

Dame Darcy illustration

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: SHEILA HETI by Jenna Leigh Evans

Sheila Heti. PHOTO CREDIT: ANGELA LEWIS PHOTOGRAPHY

Sheila Heti. PHOTO CREDIT: ANGELA LEWIS PHOTOGRAPHY

Sheila Heti is the author of the short-story collection The Middle Stories and the novels Ticknor and How Should a Person Be? which was named one of the best books of 2012 by the New York Times, Salon, The New Republic, The New York Observer, and The New Yorker.  The Chairs are Where the People Go, co-written with Misha Glouberman, was named one of the best books of 2011.  With Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton, she co-edited the book Women in Clothes, which was a New York Times bestseller. She is also the author of the children’s book We Need a Horse and the play All Our Happy Days are Stupid. Heti is the interviews editor at The Believer.   

Sheila Heti! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

Yes, I do it often. I like publishing with people I like—or people I imagine I would like, from the letter they wrote me. I wish I could publish more, but it often takes so much time to see something into print (even if there’s no money involved) and I don’t have a lot of things I’ve written that I think are worth putting into the world. But this question is about money. So yeah, I do it. I don’t feel bad about it because I don’t expect every venue has money, and because I don’t think I’m owed money for my writing, unless someone has promised it to me in advance.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

It has for the last few years. This is the life I've always wanted, ever since I used to pretend to be sick as a child so I could stay home from school and just be alone and make things and think.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

I’m not sure I write more now that I don’t have a day job. I tend to work on a lot of things at once, and everything takes so much time, and I write more in spurts than at a daily pace. I always seem to have time to write when I feel like writing, when I’m really inside it. Most of the day I go around feeling near tears because I know I am wasting my time when I could be writing, or at least reading. Then I work well and I no longer feel near tears. Then I stop writing and I feel near tears and wonder why.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I used to have the idea that one should never revise, under any circumstances—that the first draft had the energy of the moment, and that this was the most important thing. I have almost no allegiance to that idea anymore. I wish I did. It was a very powerful feeling—that something that came out of me was perfect because the moment of writing it was perfect. I haven’t been so happy with anything I’ve written in the past few years. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’m not taking enough time with things? Or because my expectations for my writing are greater and my abilities haven’t caught up yet? Or because I’ve taken the wrong path as a human? Or because I now have a cell phone? Maybe it’s because I haven’t finished a new book yet, and it’s only a book that can be emotionally satisfying. Smaller forms can’t truly be satisfying, because I only really love books.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

It’s like making spaghetti. You want to stop ten minutes before it turns to mush.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I don’t know. Probably it’s like anything in life: half will, half fate.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

Lolita. I read it when I was twelve. I think I thought I was the audience for it because there was a young girl on the cover. I remember being really jealous of Lolita. Why wasn't an old man attracted to me?

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: RAVEN RAKIA by Jenna Leigh Evans

Raven Rakia

Raven Rakia

Raven Rakia is a freelance journalist covering cities, police, prisons, and the environment. Her investigative reporting has been published by VICE Magazine, VICE News, The Nation, Matter, Truth-Out, The New Inquiry, Gothamist, Dazed Digital, and others. She tweets at @aintacrow and is currently raising money to cover her travel expenses for her investigative work.

Raven Rakia! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

No. Well, sort of. I'll self-publish my own work without compensation. Or, say, participate in a writer's collective where everyone is all benefiting equally. But for an independent magazine where the editors and/or founders are gaining (as Susie and Manjula say) "institutional cultural and economic capital" built off of unpaid labor from writers? No. And for a media outlet making a profit? Hell no. 

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

Technically I write in all of my jobs, but not all of it is the type of writing I want to do. But I'm working towards a point where my freelance journalism will be sustainable. Part of it is lowering my expenses (read: finally leaving New York), and another part is building the relationships I need to have for consistent work that pays well. A major part is demanding the freelancer's equivalent to a living wage and refusing to work for pennies. For me, low rates are just as much of an issue as free labor.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?

There's never enough time to write. Thankfully, the day job I have now is part-time and somewhat flexible. But really, I hate talking about my day job. Talking about it bores me as much as doing it. I'd prefer to pretend it didn't exist.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I just assume it does. My first draft is always a tangled mess in an attempt to just get it out, and then I begin to look over it and figure out how to actually shape it into a piece of writing.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

When the words start jumping out on the page at me and stop making sense — then it's time for someone else (my editor) to read it.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I've been writing ever since I can remember, but I wouldn't call it a calling. Writing is the way I survive mentally, and therefore, physically. But being a working writer was a choice I could make because of the resources I had, and the responsibilities I didn't have. It's also a choice I may eventually be forced out of for economic reasons.

What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I read The Bluest Eye in sixth grade — way too young — and it completely went over my head until the very end, when I realized I had totally missed it. I probably read Monster by Walter Dean Myers at the appropriate age, but it still haunts me today.

 

 

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: KAROLINA WACLAWIAK by Jenna Leigh Evans

Karolina Waclawiak. PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC BURG

Karolina Waclawiak. PHOTO CREDIT: ERIC BURG

Karolina Waclawiak is the author of the critically-acclaimed novel How to Get Into the Twin Palms and, recently, The Invaders, as well as the film adaptation of Sam Lipsyte’s Venus Drive and articles for The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Rumpus and others. She is a writer and editor at The Believer. Waclawiak will appear with Michelle Tea to discuss the invaders at Green Apple Books on the park in san Francisco on Friday, July 24.

Karolina Waclawiak! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

Sure. Sometimes I just want to work with an editor, and I know they don't have money (or maybe just a little). I would love to always get paid for my work, but I also know that isn't always possible. Maybe soon I'll get more choosey. I feel lucky to be published so I often don’t even ask if there's pay, and sometimes I get a pleasant surprise. 

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

Absolutely not. That's maybe why I'm okay with publishing without pay. Honestly, I'm surprised when anyone wants to pay me for anything creative. Which is a "me" problem, I realize. And will probably keep me working a day job forever.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

I'm finding it harder and harder to carve out time for myself each year. I have a full-time job, and on top of that I also edit essays for The Believer. I don't feel like I have enough time to do anything, to be honest. But I was not blessed with a trust fund, so I have to do what I have to do. I would love to have more time...I eye residencies dreamily. Maybe one day. I try to make time to write, but I definitely don't do it every day, and I wish I could.  I have to be ruthless about how I spend my time, so there's not a lot of socializing. I partied in my late twenties and my writing suffered, so now, I work and write.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I usually read my work to myself a few times — always printed out and taken out of the house and away from the computer. I'm always marking up the pages. In fact, I don't think revising is ever finished. You can always sharpen lines, dialogue, descriptions. All of it. 

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

I usually hand something over as "finished" when I'm tired of looking at it. But, I often feel a sense of panic that I could have tweaked it a tad more to make it perfect. You just have to let it go, though.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I definitely don't think I could be doing anything else. I'm proficient in my office jobs, but they're not very fulfilling, as you can imagine. I've written since I was about twelve, and it's always been a constant in my life and a way to process what's going on. Usually, I start a novel with a question I'm looking for an answer to. For The Invaders, my question was: As a woman, who are you when your sexual currency is gone? The next book I'm working on, about miracles, looks at why we believe what we believe. They're usually large, unanswerable questions, but I try to tackle them anyway. My first book, How To Get Into the Twin Palms, was really about cultural identity, and whether it's possible to change who you are and who you were born to be. Of course, these questions are humming in the background of the book, but don't always force themselves into the forefront in an aha! way.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews! Isn't that what all good pre-pubescent girls read? I was just talking to my older sister, who I stole the book from, about how I hadn't really understood that incest was going on, but I'd been too afraid to ask her. So I'd just read it over and over again to try to understand. Then I read the rest of the series, and everything was illuminated.

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: AIMEE HERMAN by Jenna Leigh Evans

Aimee Herman

Aimee Herman

Aimee Herman is the author of two books of poetry, meant to wake up feeling and to go without blinking AND HAS been published in anthologies and journals SUCH AS  Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, Bone Bouquet, Apogee, Nerve Lantern, and Caketrain. Her performances have been featured at the People's Improv Theatre, Dixon Place, Magnet Theatre, The Queens Art Museum, and Sidewalk Cafe, among many other venues. HERMAN WILL BE PERFORMING ON WEDNESDAY JULY 15 at Gallery Molly Kraum in Manhattan; FRIDAY JULY 17 at Berl's Brooklyn Poetry Shop in Brooklyn; and, on Tuesday July 28, will host Queer Art Organix at Dixon Place's Hot! Festival in Manhattan. VISIT aimeeherman.WORDPRESS.COM

Aimee Herman! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I'm a poet, so most of my work is published without compensation. I chose poetry (or poetry chose me) and I know it's not a moneymaking genre. But it keeps me alive. I want to be read. At the end of the day, that is what is most important. However, there are some journals who apply for grants and graciously pay their writers, so there have been times I've been compensated with money. Otherwise, it's usually contributor copies, which is more than enough. There are often small teams of hardworking people working to keep these journals alive, so I don't expect to paid; they aren't even being paid. 

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood? 

Livelihood tends to be equated with income, but for me, it's about nourishment. I feel nourished and filled-in when I write. I feel like I'm traveling, like I'm having a conversation even though I'm all alone; like every scar on my body is being properly translated. I will write regardless of how it affects my bank account. Luckily, I also really love how I spend my days making money, which is through teaching. I always struggled as a student, from day one even through graduate school. I have a difficult time with authority, and I've always been restless sitting in those tiny desks. But being a teacher extends the conversation of words and thought.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

A writer writes. I don't want to oversimplify it because it can be extremely difficult to find the time, but it is there to be found. I wake early, or I say no to invitations, or I set up extremely hearty writing dates. When I teach creative writing, I often do the assignment I give my students, so there is further encouragement. 

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I read it out loud. To myself or to an audience. I perform a lot and that really helps me to gauge what works and what doesn't. I search for the rhythm. I watch/listen for responses. For me, nothing is ever done, even when it's published. I rework old poems all the time. Rebirth them into different forms and extract lines to create new ones. 

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

See above. But also, there are times that — especially when workshopping — one could easily cut too much out. It's like when I cut my hair.  When I was nineteen, I had a bad day, went home, and decided to give myself bangs. This is often not a good idea when one's hair is curly like mine (though I've seen some curly-haired folks really pull it off. See: Kim Addonizio). Then I started fumbling with the rest of my hair. Chopping away strands. I grabbed my then-girlfriend's clippers and began shaving away my hair. I was left with nothing. Really. I over-revised and ended up with quite a mess. Sometimes it's necessary to leave parts alone.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I have no choice. It arrives in me like breaths or hunger. I cannot control it. And I am grateful for this calling every day.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

Hmm.....not sure I read any book too young, but I did get my hands on a really old copy of Naked Came the Stranger written by Penelope Ashe (rather, many writers calling themselves that) at a garage sale when I was in high school. I don't think I was too young for it, but I didn't "get it" in the way I did a few years later. It didn't exactly haunt me, instead, it inspired me to haunt. The Bell Jar will forever haunt me. Same with Catcher in the Rye because although so many characters have been compared to Holden, none will ever match his unique voice. 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: GRACE BELLO by Jenna Leigh Evans

Grace Bello

Grace Bello

Grace Bello is a staff writer for Columbia University and interviews editor for Guernica. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic, BuzzFeed, New York Magazine's The Cut, PAPER magazine, Publishers Weekly, Bitch Magazine, Jezebel, The Christian Science Monitor, McSweeney’s, The Hairpin, The Awl, The Toast, and others. Follow her on Twitter aT @GRACE_LAND or visit grace-bello.com

Grace Bello! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I do a fair amount of unpaid writing and editing. Most notably, I'm the Interviews Editor for Guernica, which is a nonprofit magazine of art and politics with an all-volunteer staff. In an ideal world, I'd be compensated for every word I wrote (including the answers to these questions!). However, that's not quite the way that publishing works. Certain unpaid endeavors are passion projects, like Guernica. Others are investments, like articles I wrote for free that ultimately caught the attention of editors who could afford to pay me. I try to strike a balance between the projects I do for love and the projects I do for money. I'm getting to a sweet spot where those projects are beginning to converge.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

Yes. I have an editorial day job at Columbia University, so I write and edit articles by day and by night. It's not a bad way to make a living.
 
If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

I do have enough time to write. However, I don't have time to, say, go on vacation as much as I'd like. If anything, perhaps I need to write less. There's more to life than work.
 
How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

As a general rule, everything could use some revision. Flabby sentences could be excised, wording could be refined, structure could be tweaked. I write the way I used to run – I keep going until I start jittering from exhaustion.
 
When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

When I've arrived at my deadline (see also: jitters).
 
Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

It was a choice. With the way that journalism and publishing are going, perhaps I won't be a writer forever. But I try to think of the big picture: If writing as a career is no longer sustainable, then is there another way for me to engage with ideas and explore other worlds beyond my own? Personally, I'm not interested in writing for writing's sake. Writing is just one medium for my curiosity. There are, and there will be, many, many others.


 

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: FATIMAH ASGHAR by Jenna Leigh Evans

Fatimah Asghar

FATIMAH ASGHAR is a nationally touring poet, photographer and performer. She created Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first spoken word poetry group, REFLEKS, and has performed at the Dodge Poetry Festival, The Nantucket Project, and TedX. Her work has appeared in POETRY MagazineThe Paris-AmericanThe Margins, and Gulf Coast. She is a member of the Dark Noise Collective. Asghar’s chapbook After is forthcoming on Yes Yes Books fall of 2015. Visit fatimahasghar.com.

Fatimah Asghar! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

It's more important to me that people read my poems then that they stay on my computer, or only in my body. Poems are urgent. What's most important to me, even above payment, is that my poems are online. There have been many times when I've needed a poem right then, and all I've had with me is a computer. Maybe I need it for a classroom or my own wellbeing. I want my work to reach as many people as possible, and that usually means some version of them has to be online. Being able to find the exact poem that you need quickly is the outmost important thing.  

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

I work as a teaching artist for Young Chicago Authors and at the Art Institute of Chicago. That means both my craft and my ability to mentor young artists and engage with them in the work is what provides me with a livelihood.  

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

I have a pretty glorious schedule with my teaching, where I am doing meaningful work but have a good classroom to artist-balance. Therefore, I have a lot of time to write. 

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

When I don't believe it. 

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

I'm always revising, even after poems are finished and no one is going to see them anymore. I'm perform my poetry a lot, so if in a show I'm performing something and I don't like a line, I'll change it right then.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I have to write. Whatever else I might also be doing with my life, I have to write.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I don't know about book, but I watched Cruel Intentions when it came out, in the theaters in 1999. I was nine years old, and I watched it with my whole family. 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: SOPHIE ROSENBLUM by Jenna Leigh Evans

Sophie Rosenblum

Sophie Rosenblum

Sophie Rosenblum is the associate editor at NANO Fiction. Her fiction has appeared in The Iowa Review, American Short Fiction, New Letters, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Matchbook, The Fourth River, New South, Wigleaf, Cousin Corinne’s Reminder, The Newport ReviewDossier Journal, Smokelong Quarterly, New World Writing, The Avery Anthology, and Fast Forward Anthologies Volumes III and IV. Her nonfiction has been published in Fast Company, The Houston Press, The Daily Meal, Spoon Magazine, The Dallas Observer, and The Cleveland Scene, among others. You can find Rosenblum at sophierosenblum.com or on Twitter.

Sophie Rosenblum! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I do. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the idea that something I’ve spent time working on, something I have crafted and cared for, that is then published and (hopefully) enjoyed by readers, does not somehow end up helping me to pay for part of my life in order to continue to write is somewhat disheartening. On the other hand, there are many literary journals—especially places that focus on flash fiction—that can’t (yet) afford to pay writers. As someone who works for a literary journal, I know how much time and effort people who work on journals put into choosing and publicizing the writing that they publish, and that certainly makes it feel worthwhile. Clearly, it’s very important to be part of the larger dialogue that is happening in the writing world, and often, being published in a place that can’t yet pay will lead to being published in a place that can. At NANO Fiction, we’ve just begun to be able to pay writers, and it certainly makes us feel better about publishing the work.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

In a way. Like many writers, I teach. I’m lucky not only that I have found opportunities to work at universities but that I really love teaching. Thankfully, I learn so much from my students that my teaching has become a large part of my craft.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?

It does. I write each morning alongside my husband, who is a poet, and then I spend my larger chunks of free time writing by myself.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I think pretty much everything could use another revision. Often two. Or ten. When it comes to my own work, I read everything I write out loud. I look for sound. I look for pacing. I read it out loud, and I look at my husband’s face. If he is smiling or crying, then I think, “I must be close.”   

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

It feels as if it’s time to stop when I read it over and over again without finding myself in any way bored. 

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I started writing because it was cathartic. I wrote down each and every feeling, every thought, every anger and joy. I made them into stories. At this point, having dealt with some of the issues I was initially writing about, it feels—happily—like a choice.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

This is perhaps my favorite question I’ve ever been asked. I have a list: Crazy Days by Ed Leander, Ben’s Dream by Chris Von Allsburg, and Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak. Although these are children’s books, they all terrified me as a child so, of course, I was obsessed with them. It still scares me just to see the titles.  

 

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: SIGRID NUNEZ by Jenna Leigh Evans

Sigrid Nunez PHOTO CREDIT: Marion Ettlinger

Sigrid Nunez PHOTO CREDIT: Marion Ettlinger

Sigrid Nunez has published six novels, including A Feather on the Breath of GodThe Last of Her Kind, and, most recently, Salvation City. She is also the author of Sempre Susan: A Memoir of Susan Sontag. Among the journals to which she has contributed are The New York TimesThreepenny Review, Harper’sMcSweeney’s, Tin House, and The Believer. Her honors and awards include four Pushcart Prizes, a Whiting Writer’s Award, a Berlin Prize Fellowship, and two awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters: the Rosenthal Foundation Award and the Rome Prize in Literature.

Sigrid Nunez! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I’ve done so several times. I do it when the publication is something I feel is worthy though compensation isn’t possible. Several literary journals where I’ve been published pay what might be called a nominal fee, and if I like the journal I have no problem with that.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

No. I also teach, though I don’t have a permanent teaching job.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, do you feel you have as much time as you need to write?

Since I don’t teach full time and also don’t have a family, I can’t complain about not having time to write. And yet, like everyone else, I live day-to-day feeling as if there is never enough time to do everything I want to do. That includes various writing projects.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

Alas, nothing could be more obvious.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

I like the saying, “A book is finished when the editor takes it away from you.” Part of the torment of writing is knowing that there really is no end to revision. You could always try something different that might work better; the language could always be more interesting and more precise. 

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I think of my writing as a vocation, which is both a choice and a calling. It’s a choice because it’s something I want to do and that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s a calling because it’s something that feels natural to me. When I’m writing, even when it’s very difficult, which is very often, I feel that I’m doing the thing I’m most suited for, the thing I do best, the thing I should be doing.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I don’t remember exactly how old I was when I read Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hugh Selby, Jr., a book of extraordinary graphic violence, but I was certainly too young. The most shocking scene in the book depicts the brutal gang rape of a teenaged prostitute. The memory of it is unsettling to me even now, decades later. Selby’s book takes place in the Fifties. Sadly, no matter how much transformation has happened there since, because of that early traumatic reading I still associate Brooklyn with danger, depravity, and sadistic violence, and I probably always will.

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: JILL McCORKLE by Jenna Leigh Evans

Jill McCorkle. PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Rankin

Jill McCorkle. PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Rankin

Jill McCorkle is the author of the books July 7, Final Vinyl Days, Creatures of Habit, The Cheerleader, Going Away Shoes, Ferris Beach, Carolina Moon, Crash Diet, Tending to Virginia, and most recently, Life After Life, five of which were named New York Times Notable Books. Her short stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, The Oxford American, The Southern Review, and Narrative Magazine, among others; other places her work has appeared includes The Washington Post, Boston Globe, Southern Living, Allure and Real Simple. She has received a New England Booksellers Award, a Dos Passos Prize for Excellence in Literature, and the North Carolina Award for Literature.  The musical Good Ol’ Girls was based on stories by McCorkle and Lee Smith.

Jill McCorkle! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I occasionally publish for free or a small amount when it's something for a good cause or on a topic of interest.  I also have done quite a bit of judging and readings for school or library functions that support the literary community. I feel that this is a way that I can give back, and so I’ve often given of my time and writing to those communities that have given so much to me — particularly, my hometown of Lumberton, North Carolina and the UNC-Chapel Hill community.  Even though I lived away from my home state for almost twenty years, I have always been included in North Carolina events and publications, and proudly so.  It's important to me that I feel connected.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood?

No — I have always taught in addition to being a writer.

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?

Finding time to write is a constant challenge, but this is where an academic job does provide natural breaks — summer, holidays — and these blocks of time have been when I have gotten a lot of work done.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I try to get a piece to my own level of satisfaction and then it has to go through the scrutiny of trusted readers and/or an editor.  I always tell my students that if you have three readers whose opinions you trust, and any two have the same problem or stumble in the same place, then it's worth going back in to fix it.  The fresh eyes of a reader/editor is very important.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

I stop revising when I can read through it and not feel the urge to reach for a pen.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I think being a writer is first a calling and then a choice.  It is something I have always loved to do, and have felt compelled to do.  The choice comes in deciding to devote yourself to the many trials and errors and time necessary to bring a piece full term.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

I tried to read Frankenstein way too young, seeking only the scary thrill the movie had provided! Obviously there is so much more going on.

 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: MATT MARANIAN by Jenna Leigh Evans

Matt Maranian

Matt Maranian

Matt Maranian is the author of L.A. Bizarro: The Insider’s Guide to the Obscure, The Absurd, and the Perverse in Los Angeles; PAD: The Guide to Ultra-Living – both of which were Los Angeles Times bestsellers – and PAD Parties: The Guide to Ultra-Entertaining. He has been published in Harper’s, Wired, British Esquire, and the Los Angeles Reader, and has appeared on the Discovery Channel, HGTV, the DIY Network, and several NPR programs. His design features have been published in ReadyMade magazine, Budget Living, Make, The Washington Post, and Craft. His satirical DIY column, "Maker Mayhem: Low Moments in How-To History" appears regularly on the tech and culture blog Boing Boing. He is a contributor for Wink Books, and serves on the Advisory Committee of the Vermont Performance Lab.

Matt Maranian! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

No — I sometimes agree to work for very little depending on the project, but I don’t have the time to work for free. I did when I first started, which I didn’t have any problem with at all, but I always tried to choose those outlets carefully because I wanted them to lead somewhere. I will also work for non-traditional forms of payment; I don’t mean sex, I mean things like art, excellent fried chicken, clothing by Rick Owens, or access to a comfortable guest bedroom in a New York apartment when I come to the city. And I would do almost anything for a 1982 Corvette. Anything.

Does your craft alone provide you with a livelihood? 

It has at times, but not consistently, because I’ve never worked as a writer consistently, because I’m sort of lazy and easily distracted. But I wouldn’t have the life that I do without the publishing work I’ve had to cover many of its costs. My third book paid for the roof on my house, for example, and I’m hoping the project I’m trying to cook up at the moment comes through for me, ‘cause baby needs a kitchen remodel and I really want a Leibherr refrigerator. 

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?

I also own a business, which involves some writing too, and I do feel I have enough time to write outside of that. The question, of course, is how wisely I make use of that time. I live deep in the woods, and contrary to what people might think, the woods can be very distracting. There’s always something extraordinary happening outside and there’s lots of action. I just saw a whole big to-do between a mammoth doe, a days-old fawn, and two feisty coyotes. The fawn didn’t get ripped limb from limb and actually managed to get away, but all hell broke loose for a while there, and it was riveting. Who can write when shit like that is happening right outside your window? And also I’m married, and when you’re married you just can’t ditch your wife all the time to write, it’s not fair. She gives me enough time though — sometimes very gladly.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

I’d like to think I’m a pretty good judge of when something’s not working, which certainly doesn’t mean that I think everything I’ve had published is great, it just means that I know what’s wrong with it. If I need a second opinion, I have a handful of very talented and brutally honest friends who I’ll pass things around to for input, if they have any. And if it’s really, truly not working, an editor will tell me so, if they’re any good. But I’ve also always believed that no one ever really reads anything I write, so I don’t worry about it too much in general. I think I’ve convinced myself of this as a self-defense mechanism.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

Sometimes I just know in my gut when it’s time to stop, which doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s as good as it can ever get, it just means it’s as good as I can get it at that time in my life. Deadlines help. I’m serious about meeting deadlines. At some point you just have to know when to call it complete because you can get on a jag reworking something forever.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

Definitely not a calling. My calling is lying around in bed doing nothing until almost noon every day — that’s what I feel I was truly put on this earth to do. Writing was always more like a fantasy, and then I sort of fell into some opportunities. I don’t know what to call that. Luck? Misfortune?

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

It’s a toss-up between Helter Skelter and The Joy of Sex. I don’t remember exactly how old I was—definitely too young for a sexual guidebook—but The Joy of Sex made sex look very unjoyful to me. Keep in mind this was the 1970’s edition; I think the pictures are better now. And I wouldn’t say it’s “haunted” me…but come to think of it, I’ve never opened that book again, even though I’ve had many opportunities to do so. It never kept me from acting out sexually at a young age, however. Helter Skelter just scared the living shit out of me. I found a dog-eared paperback copy in a cabin on a camping trip when I was in elementary school and read it at night by flashlight, which is possibly the only way you could make Helter Skelter even more terrifying than it already is. I was sure that a bunch of dirty hippies were going to cut me up and paint with my blood on the walls of our cabin. That book still haunts me, and rightfully so. I actually know someone who was friends with all the murder victims and he was invited to hang with them at the house that night, but it didn’t work out and he couldn’t make it over, and then saw the next day in the news that all his friends had been killed. He was Elvis’ hairdresser and a beat poet, a very cool man. 

SEVEN QUESTIONS FOR THE WORKING WRITER: SARAH FRAN WISBY by Jenna Leigh Evans

Sarah Fran Wisby

Sarah Fran Wisby

Sarah Fran Wisby is the author of two books of poetry: the heart's progress and Viva Loss, and also writes fiction, memoir, and essays. She is a Headlands Center for the Arts fellow and a San Francisco Arts Commission grantee. Recent work can be found online in the Portable Boog and NAP, as well as on a plaque at the Maritime Museum, next to artifacts from a Russian coal ship abandoned in San Francisco during the gold rush. You can SEE HER READ ON YOUTUBE AND order her latest book AT http://plainwrappress.com/store/12072036.

Sarah Fran Wisby! Do you ever publish your work without compensation or for a nominal fee? If so, why, and how do you feel about doing it?

I've almost always published and performed my work without financial compensation. I suppose when I was younger, the goal was to get my work out there by any means necessary. Both my books were bestsellers,  whatever that means in this context, at Small Press Distribution, and they are both beautifully designed and crafted. So, no regrets there! I don't see art as a commodity so much as a way to bring people together. That said, I'm starting to realize that if I want to be part of a larger cultural conversation, I may one day need to start courting larger publishers and venues — not in hopes of making money exactly, but of reaching a larger audience. Also, there is sort of a movement among some artists I know who are tired of giving it away for free (being surrounded by gobs of tech wealth and struggling to survive has a lot to do it, I'm sure), who are starting to insist on fair wages for the incredible amount of work it takes to make art. I fully support this, even though I'm not quite there yet myself.

Does your craft provide you with a livelihood?

It was never my aim to write for money. My father was a newspaper reporter, and earned a comfortable middle-class living, but never got around to that novel he always wanted to write. And my mother, when I told her I wanted to be some kind of artist when I grew up, said, that's fine, but you'll also need a day job to support yourself. In my mind there was a definite split between the work we do for money and the things we are passionate about, which I suppose is still there. And I listened to writers like William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens (who worked as a doctor and an insurance executive, respectively) who said that writers should always have one foot in the real world. Though I did get a sizable grant a few years back and thought, hey, I could get used to this!

If you have to hold a day job to supplement your income, or just make a living at all, does it leave you enough time to write?

I'm incredibly aware of how lucky I am to have rent control and roommates, which enables me to work part-time in one of the most expensive cities on the planet. And I work at a worker-owned co-op, where we give ourselves excellent health benefits and pay ourselves a living wage. So I have time to read and write, to dream and goof off with friends, to take classes in all sorts of side interests, from beatboxing to auto mechanics to rock climbing, and to attend to my myriad mental health crises. What I don't seem to have these days is time to date, or to clean my room.

How do you know for sure when something in your work still needs another revision?

Very occasionally something will pour out of me that needs very little revision, but ordinarily, a piece will go through several drafts as a matter of course. I read the work aloud, and my ear can usually detect false notes and places where the rhythm can be tightened. Also, over time, I see ways that I can deepen the narrative, make it stranger, more vulnerable, and hopefully more true.

When revising something in your work, how do you know for sure when it’s truly time to stop?

When I read it in front of an audience and it transports me to another realm, when I feel the audience responding and myself vibrating from head to toe with the incantatory power of language, often that's when I know it's done.

Do you feel that being a writer was a choice or a calling for you?

I was definitely "called" to be an artist of some sort, and at some point I "chose" writing because it was the thing I felt I was best at, and because it required the fewest resources to pursue. But I like to bust out in other realms, too. I love to construct material things, and could see pursuing textile arts or furniture making in some future incarnation. I also have a deep love of performance, and intend to go to clown school one of these days.

BONUS ROUND FOR PURE PLEASURE: What book did you probably read too young and it therefore haunted you forever after?

Sex Criminals Speak, a paperback of hardcore porn stories that my friend Audrey pinched from her father when we were in fourth grade. He was a lawyer, so we thought the book had to be true. It was filled with first-person accounts of rape, child molestation, bestiality, and incest, ostensibly written by men in jail who were paying for their crimes. We'd go out into the furthest field of our elementary school and read it aloud to each other during recess among the chamomile and clover. That book, more than any other, being the first of its kind that I encountered, confused me, turned me on, and made me feel very, very bad, all of which influenced and predicted my future sexual explorations. None of which I particularly regret.